Agriculture started several times at the same time

Archologists find some 10, 000-year-old relics of domesticated grain

Emmer (Triticum dicoccum) is one of the oldest man-cultivated cereals. Iran has now discovered 9, 800-year-old relics of this wheat. © USDA
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Agriculture is not an invention that only came from one place. Instead, in several regions of the fertile crescent, humans began growing food crops almost simultaneously rather than collecting them. This is confirmed by new archaeological finds in Iran. In a Stone Age settlement, researchers found 11, 700 year old relics of wild and semi-domesticated grain precursors. These are just as old as previously made finds in the Middle East and southern Turkey, as the researchers in the journal "Science" report.

More than 11, 000 years ago, people began to grow crops in the fertile Crescent between the Euphrates, Tigris and the Mediterranean for the first time. However, it was unclear where exactly our ancestors first began to turn wild plants into crops through breeding. "Researchers have long been debating whether agriculture originated in one or more areas within the fertile crescent, " said Simone Riehl of the University of Tübingen and her colleagues.

However, the transition from the mere collection of wild plants to targeted cultivation - happened around 11, 000 years ago - is not easy to prove. An indication of this would be if, for example, plant species occur in a locality that already differ in appearance or genetics from the wild type. But also tools, as they are needed for field work and for the processing of grain, can be a sign that the inhabitants of a region already cultivated targeted crops.

Places with Neolithic finds in the fertile Crescent (1 = Chogha Golan). Evidence of early agriculture has hardly been available in the East. © Riehl et al. / TISARP / University of Tübingen

Archaeological evidence of this kind have been found but only in the Levant and northern Mesopotamia, as the researchers report. Findings from the east of the fertile crescent were missing. Among other things, it has been suspected that agriculture first originated in the northwest - in the border area of ​​present-day Turkey with Syria and Iraq, and then spread from there.

Grain remains and millstones in Stone Age settlement

This is contradicted by new discoveries by Riehl and her colleagues from the eastern part of the fertile Crescent. They come from excavations in Chogha Golan, a Stone Age settlement at the foot of the Zagros Mountains in Iran. There are numerous relics of buildings, stone tools, clay figures and many mortars and grinding tools from the period from 12, 000 to about 9, 800 years ago. display

In addition to these findings, the archaeologists also found there large quantities of well-preserved plant remains from this period, including the wild forerunners of some of today's cereals such as barley and wheat. Among these, the chaff of these grain precursors was frequently found, as the researchers report. Together with the grindstones and grains, this indicates that the inhabitants of this area started to cultivate and harvest these wild grain crops 11, 700 years ago. "The millstones and breadwreaths could have served to turn the grains of these grasses into a type of bulgur or flour that was then cooked or roasted, " Riehl suggests.

Excavations in Chogha Golan TISARP / T bingen University

Gradual transition from wild grain to emmer

The systematic analysis and dating of plant remains enabled the researchers to understand almost without any clues how the Stone Age inhabitants of Chogha Golan gradually became peasants. According to them, almost 12, 000 years ago, they began growing more and more wild barley, but also lentils and, to a lesser extent, wild wheat. About 9, 800 years ago, chaff and grains of Emmer (Triticum dicoccum) appeared for the first time. He is one of the oldest cultured cereals - and is thus a clear sign that the people in Chogha Golan had already bred the first crops, as the scientists report.

"These results speak against a single source of agriculture, " say Riehl and her colleagues. Instead, there were several areas scattered across the Fertile Crescent, where humans started growing and breeding food crops almost simultaneously. "Of course, that does not exclude that there has been a transfer of ideas and material between the different groups, " the researchers said. But it is clear from the finds in Chogha Golan that the first peasants were already living in the northwest as well as in the east of the fertile crescent nearly 12, 000 years ago. (Science, 2013; doi: 10.1126 / science.1236743)

(AAAS / Science, 05.07.2013 - NPO)